WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2014-- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack provided a six-month update on USDA’s progress implementing the 2014 Farm Bill, confirming that a report outlining how the agency would reorganize to accommodate a new Under Secretary for Trade will be delayed.
President Barack Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill into law in February. The legislation included an amendment added by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., that requires USDA to “implement a reorganization of international trade functions for imports and exports of the Department of Agriculture, including the establishment of an Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.”
The measure called for USDA to report to Congress on a reorganization plan by Aug. 6.
However, Vilsack said today that the report is not yet prepared, because “we want to make sure we’ve thought through all of the ramifications.”
“It’s not as simple as it may appear at first blush,” he said. “We’re going to do it right and in a careful and thoughtful way.”
A coalition of farm groups supporting the measure said that “the trade organizational structure at USDA has remained unchanged since it was last reorganized in 1978,” and that a new trade post is needed because “overseas markets represent 73 percent of the world’s purchasing power, 87 percent of the economic growth, and 95 percent of the world’s customers.”
Among other updates, Vilsack said USDA selected universities and other partners to receive farm bill funding designated to create web-based tools to help producers decide between the new commodity title programs, the Agricultural Risk Coverage Program (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage Program (PLC). The partners will also develop a separate tool to navigate the new dairy program.
By mid-winter, producers and landowners will be required to make a one-time decision between PLC and ARC for 2014-2018 crop years. USDA said they can expect to sign contracts for ARC or PLC for the 2014 and 2015 crop years early in 2015.
Vilsack also said today that USDA is making progress on the new Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO), available through the federal crop insurance program and set to begin with the 2015 crop year.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that farmers should start receiving notices to update FSA on their current base acres, yields and 2009-2012 planting history.
"As farmers begin to make critical decisions about farm safety net programs, it's important that they have the correct information. This is good due diligence on the part of FSA," said NCGA President Martin Barbre.
During the farm bill update, Vilsack also addressed concerns about the implementation of a new Actual Production History (APH) provision under the Crop Insurance Title.
Some members of the House Agriculture Committee, including Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, asked USDA to implement the provision in time for next year’s harvest to help farmers affected by drought. However, USDA Farm and Foreign Agriculture Under Secretary Michael Scuse said last month the APH adjustment will not be available until the 2016 crop year.Vilsack confirmed today that USDA cannot plan to implement the provision sooner, because the department has to select some programs to handle first.
“It’s the best we could under the circumstances,” he said, because USDA decided to move forward with Commodity Title provisions. “It was a staffing issue. It comes down to that.”
He said recalculating APH is very “labor and staff intensive” because it requires computations on every commodity and every county.
Some Congress members asked USDA to consider implementing a partial APH provision for certain areas of the country suffering from prolonged drought. However, Vilsack said this may not be feasible.
“If you’re going to single out counties or commodities...how do you draw the line?” he said.
Ultimately, Vilsack said he is pleased with USDA’s progress implementing the 2014 Farm Bill.
“I will stack up what we’ve done with this farm bill in the first six months with any other farm bill,” he said. “It’s complicated, it’s difficult…We want to make sure we’re getting it right, but we also want to make sure we’re getting it done.”
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